Saturday, August 16, 2008


“Anna, I don’t know if you know this, but there is some seriously insane sh!t going on out there right now. People are losing their minds.
“There’s a bad sector in the electromagnetic spectrum which is causing a rift in logical thinking. Rational behaviour has given way to primordial action.
“We’ve reached a critical juncture in the consistency of everyday living. Societal norms are being completely abandoned. Anarchy has replaced etiquette. Chaos is the ruling class of this civilization.”

It’s New Year’s Eve in Terminus, and a strange signal of unknown origin is broadcast over TV, the phone lines, cellular networks, and radio, a signal that causes anyone exposed to it to suddenly behave irrationally, and more often than not, violently.
That’s the sweet and simple premise of The Signal, a sharp, ballsy, and terribly smart addition to the burgeoning ranks of apocalypse cinema.

The Signal is told in three sections (or “transmissions,” as they’re called) which ultimately tell one story, chronicling the effects of the eponymous signal on civilization in microcosm, as it impacts on the lives of husband and wife Lewis and Mya Denton (AJ Bowen and Anessa Ramsey) and Mya’s lover, Ben (Justin Welborn).
It’s an ambitious narrative structure, tackled by three writer/directors, David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, and Dan Bush.

Aside from the seamless manner in which one transmission flows into the next while folding back in on themselves over the course of the film’s running time (ala Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction), what is particularly audacious about The Signal is that one of its transmissions—Gentry’s Trans: 2.0, “The Jealousy Monster”—not only takes a comedic bent to the material, but also serves as an effective metaphor for the intrusion of the signal on society’s equilibrium, as we enter the confines of a house in the midst of preparations for a New Year’s Eve party.

As I’ve mentioned before ‘round these parts, horror and comedy don’t always make a good marriage, but in Gentry’s transmission, they not only get on like gangbusters, but “The Jealousy Monster,” laughs and all, also works in concert with the other transmissions—Bruckner’s “Crazy in Love” and Bush’s “Escape From Terminus”—giving the audience a slight tonal reprieve from the grim scenario of The Signal, while simultaneously pushing the narrative forward and doing that metaphor thing.
And hey, it’s got the most effed-up New Year’s Eve party on film. Ever.
If that doesn’t seal the deal, I don’t know what else could.

The performances by the three principals, as well as those of Scott Poythress and Cheri Christian (who we both meet in “The Jealousy Monster”), are also uniformly excellent, the actors getting to the emotional core of the material even as they’re slathered in fake blood and doing some pretty brutal things to each other.
And of course, aside from the actors and directors, the scripts are also spot-on, with Bush’s “Escape From Terminus” boasting some tricky—and at times, cruel—reversals.
A cover of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere,” by Ola Podrida, is also used to fantastically moving effect, so that should be a plus, yes?

In an age where the information stream has become a veritable deluge—where television continues to blare out what we need to buy and how we need to look; where the latest celebrity meltdown (and its attendant freight of all-too-real human misery) is considered news; where the ubiquity of the Internet, with its digital morass of truth, emotion, rancour, rumour, and outright lie churning 25/8—The Signal as a whole is also a potent metaphor for how man as a species struggles daily to process all that stimuli; how we, as a people, exist under the post-millennial burden of maintaining our mental health while under incessant media assault.
These are all the bits and pieces that we absorb, that influence our personal mindset, and ultimately shape our worldview. And they come at us in dizzying volumes and speed, whether we’re able to cope or not.

The awful truth is, the signal has already been broadcast; it’s already out there. It’s pulsing right now, even as you read this review.
Worse, this review is part of the signal.
We’ve all been exposed, have been for a very long time.
The question is, what are we gonna do about it?

Parting shot: Bruckner, Gentry, and Welborn all previously worked together on the interesting curiosity which is Psychopathia Sexualis; Bruckner was the film’s cinematographer, while Gentry and Welborn were actors on the production.

(The Signal OS courtesy of; selected images courtesy of; The Signal wallpaper courtesy of

No comments: